In 1958 a cybernetics research group consisting of the zoologist Bernhard Hassenstein, the physicist Hans Wenking and theoretical physicist Werner Reichardt was established at the Max Planck Institute for Biology. After the departure of Hassenstein from Tübingen in 1960, the research group was upgraded to a department under the leadership of Reichardt. This starting point led to the foundation of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics
by Reichardt in 1968. The main research focus was, from the very beginning, the perception and processing of visual information in the nervous system. In the early years of the Institute, the emphasis was on analysis of the visual system in insects. Subsequent staff appointments, progress in the area of perception as well as developments in the available technology have led to a shift during the last 15 years, so that the main research focus is now on the elucidation of cognitive processes.
The two departments “Human Perception, Cognition and Action” (founded in 1993) and “Physiology of Cognitive Processes” (founded in 1997) approach the subject using complementary methods which aim to clarify systematically the complex activities in the brains of primates. The work of these departments was further complemented in 2001 with the founding of the department of “Empirical Inference”. With the establishment in 2006 of a fourth department, the High-Field Magnetic Resonance Center, the expansion of the Institute was completed.